By Mark Rosner – American-Statesman Correspondent
CEDAR PARK — Eventually, the San Antonio Spurs will know if their renowned scouting detected another gem that others overlooked.
For now, Derrick White has led the Austin Spurs, San Antonio’s affiliate, to within one victory of the NBA G League championship.
White, the Spurs’ first-round pick in 2017, scored 35 points as Austin took a 105-93 win over the Raptors 905 Sunday night in front of 4,321 fans at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
Game 2 of the best-of-three series will be on Tuesday in Toronto. If Game 3 is necessary, the Spurs will play host on Friday.
Darrun Hilliard scored 23 for Austin, and Nick Johnson added 17. Lorenzo Brown led the Raptors with 20.
White, the No. 29 pick overall, also scored 35 last Thursday when Austin beat the South Bay Lakers to reach the finals.
On Sunday, White scored 16 in the third quarter as San Antonio General Manager R.C. Buford watched the game. Buford said playing in the G League will be instrumental in White’s development. He appeared in only 17 games for the parent team as a rookie this season.
“He’s a very skilled player with a good feel for the game,” Buford said. “But if he was sitting in San Antonio, at the end of the bench, or behind the bench (in street clothes), this doesn’t happen.”
White is a later bloomer who had no Division I scholarship offers as a high school player in Colorado. He was 6 feet tall and skinny, and he ended up at Division II University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. After three seasons there and 5 inches of growth, White transferred to Colorado, where he earned first-team all-Pac 12 recognition as well as a spot on the all-defensive team as a senior.
“Thank God I grew, but I also upped my work ethic,” he said.
White’s hot third quarter helped the Spurs to an 11-point lead. But the Raptors came all the way back, pulling even with a five-point possession midway through the fourth quarter. Malachi Richardson was fouled while making a 3-point basket. Richardson missed the free throw, but Kennedy Meeks retrieved the rebound and made a layup.
Then the San Antonio Spurs’ culture kicked in. On consecutive possessions, Austin made the extra pass, resulting in 3-point baskets by Johnson and Julian Washburn.
“I mean, that’s the Spurs’ way,” Hilliard. “Good to great.”
Hilliard, who assisted on Washburn’s 3-pointer, appeared in 14 San Antonio games this season as part of a new plan that allows each NBA team to sign two players to two-way contracts, enabling them to be called up to the parent club on a limited basis. They are allowed to spend up to 45 days with the parent club and get paid significantly more than players who have regular G League contacts.
Hilliard said he receives instruction from the San Antonio Spurs on things he needs to work on in Austin to become an NBA player.
But in a manner also befitting the Spurs’ culture, he declined to provide details. Instead, Hilliard laughed and said, “I’ll take that to bed with me.”